By Ben Golliver
The NBA announced a few tweaks to the format of its All-Star Saturday lineup on Thursday, connecting the events by way of a competition between the Eastern and Western Conferences and adding "captains" to oversee the spectacle.
In years past, the four events -- the Shooting Stars, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest -- were totally independent. Beginning at this year's 2013 All-Star Weekend in Houston, the East and West will receive points based on the results of each of the four events, with the overal winning conference earning extra money to donate to charity.
As part of the new format, points earned by each conference throughout the four All-Star Skills Competitions will determine the conference that earns the title of 2013 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night Champion. Also, each conference will have an All-Star Saturday Night captain who will lead his team during the event.
In addition, NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $350,000 going to the winning conference’s charities and $150,000 to the runner-up conference’s charities. All of the charities will be selected by the conference captains, the NBA, and State Farm. The State Farm All-Star Saturday Night captains and the charities receiving donations will be selected and announced at a later date.
Why make these changes?
The primary motivation would seem to be drumming up interest in the Shooting Stars and Skills Challenge, which have traditionally been pointless appetizers before the real show begins with the Three-Point Contest and Dunk Contest, and gaining exposure for the charities. It's not entirely clear how many people out there will actually be motivated to tune in earlier and stick around throughout simply because of a charity-driven competition, but this will give the television broadcasters some extra material to fill time. It should help the charities involved get constant name-checking and logo shots on televised graphics as the competition's progress is being tracked from event to event.
The inclusion of captains for each side could also help spark interest. Big-name NBA stars have become a courtside fixture during the Dunk Contest, which adds some excitement and buzz to the scene. Watching LeBron James watch the Dunk Contest is often as exciting as the Dunk Contest itself. If the Saturday Night captains wind up being star players and they interact with the participants throughout the events, that could be reason enough to tune in. Just imagine James and Kevin Durant lightheartedly talking trash during the Shooting Skills. A chance to watch the stars interact in a somewhat impromptu and extemporaneous fashion would be far more entertaining than the WNBA halfcourt shot contest.
Of course, there's a chance the Saturday Night captains wind up being broadcasters or former players, in which case we're right back to no one caring about the first half of the show. Please, NBA: do not make the captains Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson. Resist the temptation.